Junk mail, a renegade postman and Seinfeld’s nemesis


In the long-running television sitcom “Seinfeld,” Jerry’s neighbor (and nemesis) Newman often commented on his job as a U.S. postal worker.  Making fun of the mail; and post office; was a recurring theme. In the show’s final season, one episode was even titled “The Junk Mail

I was reminded of Newman; today while reading in Raleigh’s daily News & Observer about Steven Padgett, a renegade (and now former) postman who just received probation. His offense? For years, he kept (and did not deliver) third-class mail, sometimes referred to as “junk mail.”

Per the article: “Postal inspectors went to [his]home this spring and discovered the third-class mail piled in his garage and buried in his yard."

According to the story, Padgett is being praised by many as a kind of folk hero for his actions.One commentator chimed in:

“That 'Mailman Steve' should get a commendation," said Doug Kopp of Washington, D.C. … "I'm so fed up with junk mail …"

;With such abhorrence for junk mail, what are companies to do? Given the very challenging economy, marketing departments that rely on direct mail are under the gun.Consumer spending is stressed.Mailing costs are rising.Marketers need to more precisely target mailings – whether a retailer; sending a promotional mailing or catalog, a bank; offering new credit cards, or a telecom provider unveiling new services.


The answer is analytics.With analytics, retailers, banks and other companies can better target your so-called junk mail so you only receive the most relevant promotional offerings.

Without it? Angry customers and overflowing mailboxes:


About Author

Mike Nemecek

Public Relations Manager for SAS.


  1. You wrote:
    "The answer is analytics. With analytics, retailers, banks and other companies can better target your so-called junk mail so you only receive the most relevant promotional offerings."
    It is true that with analytics (e.g. a data mining model, be it a decision tree or a neural network) one can run better targeted direct mailing campaigns. However, this does not mean that we will "only receive the most relevant promotional offerings".
    Consider for a moment what it means in practice when data mining or analytics is used to improve a direct mailing campaign. Without analytics the take rate might be 1%. It would be considered a huge improvement if the take rate can be increased to 5% by using analytics. However, this still means that 95% of the mail will go to consumers who will consider it junk mail!
    So from the point of view of a company analytics can indeed improve the success of direct mailings dramatically. But from the point of view of consumers there will be no significant reduction in the amount of junk mail.

  2. Christoffer -- While there will always be some level of mail considered junk by consumers, companies can optimize the effectiveness of their direct mail while minimizing waste. More relevant mailings are a plus not only for the organization sending them, but are viewed more favorably and as less wasteful by customers and prospects receiving them. Progressive companies are increasingly applying experimental design to their marketing efforts – not only direct mail, but Web site design, email campaigns, in-store displays, and others. Through designed experiments, organizations can truly understand what factors and combinations of factors drive success and they can do this much more effectively and efficiently than the typical A/B testing, which only allows changing one factor at a time. SAS Education offers a popular course, Design of Experiments for Direct Marketing, that explores this area of increasing interest: http://support.sas.com/training/us/crs/doefs.html
    Anne Milley, SAS Technology Marketing

  3. Anne: I agree that "companies can optimize the effectiveness of their direct mail", but the point I was trying to make was that given the baseline level we're starting from (for most types of direct mailing being done today), there might be a significant improvement from the point of view of the company, whereas the consumer will notice little difference.
    I think statements to the effect that "you only receive the most relevant promotional offerings" are misleading", reality is always messier than theory and you will rarely " truly understand what factors and combinations of factors drive success" in the real world. Analytics is not a silver bullet, what it can do for you is bring some order to the chaos.

  4. Does no response = junk? I get a lot of catalogues that I enjoy browsing - and sometimes even share them with friends - but never order from. On the other hand, I do get a slew of credit card offers that are most clearly junk to me.
    This site is always an option for removing your address from direct mailing lists altogether: http://donotmail.org/form.php?id=50

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